Since health officials began keeping records of COVID-19 outbreaks, many nursing homes and other group living centers have become hot spots. Close proximity and shared facilities at these places have helped spread the virus.
On Friday, New Hanover County announced that two staff members at Northchase Rehabilitation and Nursing Center had tested positive for the virus, despite what the county’s public health department called the center’s “strong infection control measures.” The facility is working closely with public health officials to continue those measures and reduce any further risk, according to the news release.
Two other prominent nursing and convalescent facilities in New Hanover County – Trinity Grove and The Davis Community – continue to report no novel coronavirus cases.
This fact was confirmed by Bonnie Skobel, administrator at Trinity Grove, and by Angie Barr, The Davis Community’s business analyst and development administrator. Skobel added that no cases have occurred in the entire Lutheran Services Carolina network of care facilities, of which Trinity Grove is a part.
Both Trinity Grove and Davis have followed strict practices to protect patients and staff.
“As with other North Carolina nursing homes, following the mandate of the governor, Trinity Grove is closed to visitors, since congregate housing is an environment in which disease can spread rapidly if serious precautions aren't taken,” Skobel said.
Barr said Friday that her facility has “instituted a multitude of new policies and protocols to ensure stringent monitoring, tracking and surveillance of COVID-19.
“The process has required countless hours of study of CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidelines and local and state direction,” she said in an email. “With the daily changes at so many levels, the writing and revising of new protocols, policies and procedures is extensive. We have evolved as a result of this experience and believe most organizations will be better as a result.”
Skobel detailed the measures Trinity Grove and similar facilities are taking to maintain a safe environment. They include:
- Screening of all employees with a temperature check and a list of questions as they report for work. All employees are required to wear masks during their entire shift, and receive a new mask each workday.
- Quarantining all newly admitted patients for 14 days in accordance with guidelines from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Nursing team members caring for quarantined residents wear more personal protective equipment [PPE] and screen quarantined residents every shift.
- Bringing meals to residents’ rooms; communal dining facilities are temporarily closed.
- Cleaning high-touch areas thoroughly and more often.
With no way to predict how long the U.S. epidemic will last, nursing homes expect that they will have to maintain these preventive precautions for some time. It’s expensive, both Barr and Skobel say.
“We have incurred significant expense for PPE,” said Barr. “The supply chain for PPE struggled early on in the pandemic. As it has recovered, prices for some items are higher than normal and some items still not readily available. Increased price and our increased need have resulted in cost that is approximately three times our normal expense.”
Trinity Grove also has seen costs burgeon for equipment and supplies. The facility also offers employees a meal during their shift, and often sends additional meals home with them.
“We consider it money well spent,” Skobel said of the supplies and food expenses.
Officials at both The Davis Community and Trinity Grove emphasized the value of their staff and commended them for their extra efforts during the pandemic.
“We have worked with staff to educate them on the virus and its transmission in an effort to arm them with information so they are prepared to care for their families at home and residents at The Davis Community,” Barr said. “We have had non-clinical employees who have struggled to manage the stress of the situation related to COVID-19 but the vast majority of our team is in place and caring for residents in the amazing way we see them do every day. It is the work of heroes.”
Trinity Grove likewise counts itself fortunate to have a team that Skobel says is “dedicated and conscientious.”
“While LSC does have a staffing crisis plan in place for all of its senior care communities, we have been able to manage staffing at Trinity Grove over these past several months without having to restructure,” Skobel said. “Initially we thought that child care for staff members’ children might be a big challenge, but our employees have managed incredibly well.
“We are trying to support our teammates as much as we can during this time . . . and we have provided some bonuses as we are able,” she continued. “We are incredibly grateful to our team members. They are heroes who have stepped up in an extraordinary way during a very stressful time.”
Care facilities have been dealt a double-whammy during the pandemic, since they must not only work to prevent virus contagion but must keep residents’ spirits up during a time of enforced isolation from family and friends.
“As you can imagine, it's incredibly difficult for residents to be physically separated from their families for so long,” Skobel said. “Our teammates have done a great job of keeping our residents occupied and connected to their loved ones through technology (FaceTime, Zoom, etc.) and helping to arrange window visits.
“Families have thrown birthday parties for residents through windows, and we organized a parade of family and friends that was really appreciated by both families and residents,” she continued. “We love to be able to do these spirit-lifting events. Our chaplain and our activities department have really stepped up to the challenge of keeping residents engaged and trying to keep them from feeling isolated during a really stressful time."
The Davis Community also has used a mixture of electronic and “window” means to keep its residents connected to the outside world, Barr said. She said her facility is planning a “family parade week” the week of June 8th so families can drive through the Davis campus and see their loved ones and staff.
“We are taking the lack of permitted visitation by the public as an opportunity to connect with each other in new ways,” Barr said. “Our Household Model of care is centered around treating each other as family and that has never been more true than it is today.”
Showing that they consider themselves part of a “household” as well, some Trinity Grove residents and future residents of the new Trinity Landing retirement community pitched in and sewed long-sleeved gowns for the staff.